A World Of Change

So, it is a new year, a new political environment, a new resolve for personal growth.

Many of the clergy I have been in conversation with have voiced their concern about dwindling congregations; young people moving away from the area, inability of older people to attend regularly, lack of time to fit much into an already busy life, or just plain old disinterest. What in the world is happening to our churches?

Not all churches are in decline. Indeed, some churches are thriving, the ‘mega-church’ born out the movement away from mainstream denominations have shown substantial growth. But that is not what I want to talk about today.

There is a new movement: Spiritual But Not Religious, SBNR if you will, that has taken hold of many, especially younger adults, as a replacement for traditional worship services. In her book, “Belief without Borders,” author Linda Mercadante outlines the basic spiritual feelings covering a cross section of young people aged 18 through 35. The interviews revealed a number of answers to the decline in mainstream religions.

Those claiming to be of no religious affiliation, “none’s” rose from about 3.2 percent of the population in 2008 to 20 percent by 2012. This is a national average. Here in West Virginia only one in 5 people admit to be ‘churched’, this means only 20 percent  of our states population go to church on a somewhat regular basis leaving the other 80 percent either unaffiliated, uninterested or seeking something else.

There are many reasons people stay away from worship services; some feel the service is old fashioned, some were forced to go to church as a youth but now, as an adult, resent it. Others have been regular church members but have problems with personalities within the church staff or clergy. For almost all, the turning away from one church leads to attendance at another. Church hopping only lasts so long and the same feelings arise, eventually some will simply leave worship services behind.

Enter this new group, the 18-35 year old “none” – seeking something, not knowing what, often latching on to anything which seems attractive or fun. This type of movement has been happening since the 1950s. The rise of awareness in Eastern Philosophies in the 1960s opened up doors to young people to explore spirituality outside of the mainstream. Sometimes with tragic results as in some of the cults which cropped up at that time. The lasting effect of seeking has brought us to today: SBNR, Spiritual But Not Religious. As Ms. Mercadante conducted interviews she realized a common base of reasoning, dissatisfaction with the status quo of mainstream churches, desire for a more personal relationship with the higher power, (therefore a reluctance to refer to traditional names like God) and a need to reconnect with nature. None of this is inherently bad, seekers must seek. At this point, however, there is very little guidance for said seeker. Where guidance is lacking, disillusion quickly follows.

What I have found most interesting about this movement, more like a loose association, is their efforts to form common ideals, goals and meetings. They are getting organized!

Friends, we are witnessing the formation of a new religious denomination! I have no idea what form it will take, nor what name they will choose to be know, but for the first time since the early 20th century, people are talking about, getting excited about, getting together about — religion. Even Spirituality without Religion. We will have to wait, pray and be faithful that God has a plan for everyone.